May 8 (UPI) -- Bumble Bee Foods has agreed to plead guilty to conspiring to fix the cost of canned and pouch tuna, the Justice Department announced Monday.
Bumble Bee agreed to pay a $25 million criminal fine, which will increase to a maximum criminal fine of $81.5 million if the company is sold, and the San Diego-based company will cooperate with the Antitrust Division's ongoing investigation involving packaged seafood.
Last year, two executives pleaded guilty to price fixing with Dongwan Enterprise-owned StarKist and Tri-Union Seafoods, the owner of Chicken of the Sea.
Bumble Bee's plea agreement is subject to a district court judge in the Northern District of California in San Francisco.
Bumble Bee and its unnamed co-conspirators agreed to fix prices of shelf-stable tuna fish from the first quarter of 2011 through at least fourth quarter of 2013, according to a one-count felony charge filed Monday.
"Today's charge is the third to be filed – and the first to be filed against a corporate defendant – in the Antitrust Division's ongoing investigation into price fixing among some of the largest suppliers of packaged seafood," said acting Assistant Attorney General Andrew Finch of the Justice Department's Antitrust Division. "The division, along with our law enforcement colleagues, will continue to hold these companies and their executives accountable for conduct that targeted a staple in American households."
Earlier agreeing to felony conspiracy charges were Walter Scott Cameron, the senior vice president of sales, and Kenneth Worsham, senior vice president of trade marketing. They agreed to reduced or suspended sentences to be determined after their cooperation in the price fixing investigation.
Bumble Bee's general counsel, Jill Irvin, said the company has new internal polices in place.
"We accept full responsibility for needing to earn back any lost trust in our company," Irvin said in a statement.
Founded in 1899 by a group of fishermen in Oregon, Bumble Bee Seafoods is privately held and is North America's largest branded shelf-stable seafood company, according to its website. That includes canned and pouched tuna, salmon and sardines.
Bumble Bee was acquired by Conagra Foods in 2000 and combined with Connors Brothers Income Fund in 2004. In 2008, the two sea food companies were sold to Centre Partners in 2008 and then in 2010 to Lion Capital LLP.